Last Updated on July 29, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 471
In Light in August Faulkner explores Southern, and sometimes American, values regarding race, sexuality, regional origin, and religion.
1. Faulkner's early title for the manuscript of Light in August was "Dark House." Why is this title appropriate? Is the final title of the novel more effective than the original?
2. In early drafts of the novel, the story began with Hightower, not Lena Grove. What is the effect of having Lena begin and end the novel?
3. Byron Bunch is one of the few important characters in the novel who does not have a past. Even Lena, who is almost a symbolic character, has one. Why do you think Faulkner does this? How would the novel change if Byron's life was traced from birth or childhood, as it is for other major characters?
4. Robert Heilman, in Tragedy and Melodrama, sees tragic characters torn between the contradictory impulses and values of a dilemma. No right choice exists, but choices must be made. He sees melodrama as a deterministic situation in which characters are under the control of other characters or are swept up in natural or historical events over which they have no control. In melodrama, which can be political, unlike tragedy, one might wish to reform the social inequities, such as racism, that ruin a character's life. Are the fates of Joe Christmas, Joanna Burden, and Gail Hightower tragic or melodramatic?
5. Describe the comic actions in Light in August. How do they mix with the overall tragic or melodramatic action involving Joe Christmas, Joanna, and Hightower?
6. Jim Crow laws, passed after the Civil War, usually in the South but not exclusively so, were supported by the "separate but equal" Supreme Court decision of Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 challenged this doctrine, but Faulkner's Light in August, in which the present action is set in the Prohibition era, appears to challenge this sense of justice as well. How does Faulkner attack the dominant racial ideology of his day?
7. In the character development of Hightower, Christmas, and Joanna Burden, Faulkner ties together religious upbringing, sexuality, and race. Try to estimate the relationship of these forces in each of these characters. Are the formulations the same for all three? What are the differences?
8. How well does Light in August hold together? Does it seem unified or disjointed? Does your esthetic judgment affect your sense of the novel's power?
9. Faulkner has created about seventy characters in Light in August. What tricks of characterization does he use to work in so many characters?
10. What are the connections to the Christ story in Light in August? What is Faulkner's purpose in drawing a partial parallel between the life of Christ and the life of Joe Christmas?
11. Using Light in August and other Faulkner novels as your focus, discuss how political a great writer can be.
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